Eighty years ago a candidate for Classics at Balliol College, Oxford would have written an essay (length of paper unspecified) on 'credulity', or on the question "how far did the absence of articles and particles affect the Latin language?" What has changed since 1929?
We still teach one of the most cross-curricular subjects on the timetable: we offer Latin and Greek, as well as the study of the Classics in translation (Classical Civilisation and Ancient History). Classics will still cover the essentials of classical language and literature, but these days we will expect boys to know something about Roman Britain and archaeology; to discuss the position of slaves, women and foreigners in Athens or Rome; to understand something of philosophy or religion, and to base their arguments on evidence. We hope that they will learn to argue with us, and back up those arguments on paper or orally.
It is no longer enough to know the "outlines" of history; our boys will know something of bias in Herodotus and tell us what is inaccurate in the film "300". Another revolution is in the world of ICT and visual stimuli: we expect boys to use these tools to communicate clearly, not as an end in themselves, and we organise trips - such as our joint trip to Greece with the Girls' School - as an opportunity to develop an ability to "read" vases and sculpture as sensitively as they read literary or historical texts.
Curiously enough, we still expect our boys to win places at Oxbridge. And we expect them to grasp the importance of ideas; the Greek for 'the future' is, after all, 'the things behind us'. Writing a well-structured essay is as important to an employer in the twenty-first century as it was in 1929.
Click here: News: Classicists' Italian Trip takes in Pompeii
Stephen Heath BA
Head of Classics